The Poison Control Center

Carbon Monoxide

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Snow and ice can wreak havoc and cause power outages. Please follow recommendations to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Place generators as far from homes as possible (minimum of 25 feet), but also at a safe distance from any nearby dwellings
  • Never use a generator, grill, camp stove, or other gasoline or charcoal-burning device inside a home, basement, garage, or outside near an open window
  • Never heat homes with a gas oven or by burning charcoal
  • Ensure that fuel-burning space heaters are properly vented
  • Install a battery operated or battery back-up CO alarm in the home with annual battery replacement
  • Leave the building and dial 911 if a CO alarm sounds, if CO poisoning is suspected, or if any person begins to feel dizzy, light-headed, or nauseous. For suspected cases of CO poisoning and other exposures, persons should call their regional poison center at 1-800-222-1222.

What you can't see/smell can hurt you

Malfunctioning gas, oil and kerosene heaters can release carbon monoxide gas (CO), which presents a serious health threat. CO is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, nonirritating gas. These properties make CO especially dangerous because it cannot be detected without special testing of the air quality.

When inhaled, CO reduces the amount of oxygen the blood can carry and the amount of oxygen delivered to all vital organs. The organs at greatest risk of injury are those with the highest requirements for oxygen — the heart and the brain.

Symptoms of CO poisoning

Symptoms of a mild exposure to CO include headache, shortness of breath during mild exertion and fatigue. Continued exposure to CO may result in nausea, vomiting, visual disturbances and difficulty concentrating.

Prolonged exposure and lack of medical treatment may lead to serious and long-term effects and may even be life-threatening. The very young and the very old are most sensitive to the effects of CO.

Some symptoms of CO poisoning, such as headache, dizziness, nausea and fatigue, can be confused with the common flu. However, flu is passed from one family member to another, and usually does not affect everyone in the family at the same time. Symptoms of the flu do not improve after leaving the house; and are usually relieved with proper medication.

CO poisoning, on the other hand, will simultaneously produce symptoms in the entire family, including the family pets. Symptoms may improve upon leaving the area of exposure; and are not relieved with medication.

If CO is detected, you should leave the area of exposure immediately and go to the emergency department. Call The Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 for further instruction. The gas company, oil company or local health authority can provide help in identifying and removing sources of CO contamination.

Sources of carbon monoxide

Reviewed by: The Poison Control Center
Date: October 2013

  • Print
  • Share

Contact Us

Call our 24-hour toll-free emergency hotline

1-800-222-1222

Hearing impaired

215-590-8789